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Ah, this must have been written by an American - 'Workers would probably prefer to allocate the bulk of that extra time to leisure but I doubt employers will let that happen.'

In other places, the wishes of employers are not granted such implied power. Witness Walmart's attempt to ban romantic relationships among its employees in Germany - which was laughed out of the German legal system, just before Walmart left Germany.

Employers do not get to decide how their employees live in other societies with the same sense of certainty which Americans seem to believe is an employer's right.

Of course, the article just continues to follow this path onwards. And besides, what happened to the 5 hour energy drinks that were so extensively advertised just a year ago? Weren't they good enough to increase employee productivity?

Maybe someone needs to start producing poly-dichloric-euthynol?

Yeah, the author seems laughably wrong in that respect. Why would this alter the downward course of hours worked? The vast majority of workers are 40 hours/wk or less and there's no way that would change. Perhaps some people who work long hours would work a little more, but at the same time at a certain level you are surely risking burnout.

My reaction to the idea that employers wouldn't "let" workers allocate the bulk of the extra time to leisure was that whoever wrote that must not understand how employment works in America. No one can force an employee to take a job requiring more than 40 hrs/wk or a job in which they can't date a co-worker. Some employees may choose that, but no one can force anyone to take a job against their will.

As for the Walmart example, I'm not sure why it's a good thing that the German government won't let German workers decide for themselves whether they would rather work at Walmart than date a co-worker. In America, we have probably over 100 million people that have found jobs where they can date their co-worker if they choose. We're able to accomplish that without losing the 1.4 million jobs that Walmart provides. I have no idea whether Walmart prevents American employees from dating each other. It's not really an issue since there are so many other companies that don't ban employee dating. Interesting how freedom works.

Tell a parent that what they do behind the fence or swipe-card or fob-locked door is 'work' and what they do before it is 'leisure.' Then duck!

#1) I can see employees (particularly those paid hourly) giving up some of the newly freed up time for higher income, but I've seen numerous articles indicating that American's tend to be sleep deprived already. I would expect 'workers' to be more sleep deprived than the average person and to thus get less than the average sleep implied by the numbers. So there would probably be less potential gains than indicated.
Still if your average American worker gained 1.5 hours of awake time a day. Traded 0.5 of it for more work and a 6% raise and had an extra hour per day of time, then it would be a win-win for everybody.

Is sleep reduction the next low-hanging fruit?

1. The amount of available work is falling, so I'm unclear why one would want to increase the number of hours devoted to work.

2. The problem of the Great Stagnation is one of innovation and productivity. The writer appears to be confusing output and productivity, as evidenced in this statement: "If we look at output per worker, then a 34% increase in hours worked would be a substantial boost in productivity and would surely lead to increased economic growth."

3. I've read persuasive evidence that 40 hours a week is about right, and after that productivity falls away reasonably steeply. That may have been disproved by now, but if it's still valid I see no point in adding another 15 hours a week.

4. Why would you want to increase aggregate output, which is what this article seems to want to do. By all means encourage innovation and the goods that brings us. By all means increase productivity measured as output over time. But can the writer be simply hoping to increase GDP all on its own? Why would you even want to do that?

5. The whole article is a confused mess. I don't know why it's aroused my emotions so effectively, but it has. Perhaps other commentators can show I'm not understanding it and thereby calm me down...

40 is about where productivity peaks and ~60 is where output peaks. While some of that may be due to reducing sleep, my guess is that it's due to physical and mental exhaustion. Unless these drugs can provide a way to recharge your batteries mentally and physically, they ain't gonna do much.

As usual, Betteridge's law of headlines applies.

I see less gain from increasing the amount of working hours for the average worker than increasing the amount of potential hours of work from the most productive/innovative 1%. Think of it as increasing the stock of innovators by 30%. The binding constraint on people like Jobs or Gates or Musk (or Edison) is probably time. That is what could do some TGS counteraction, not giving people 2 hrs/day more to work at WalMart.

And the most productive people may not face the same 'falling-off' of productivity at 40 hrs/week that most people do.

"Unless these drugs can provide a way to recharge your batteries mentally and physically, they ain’t gonna do much."

Modafinil does improve alertness and productivity. You can't permanently skip sleeping on Modafinil though.

#4- good post by Sumner.

#1: But I want to sleep more, not less!

Yeah that whole article is horrific. You want me to start taking these pills that fundamentally alter a basic function of human physiology, and we're not even sure exactly how? Yeah, thanks but no thanks.

I really hope that author(s) do not end up in any sort of authority. A truly incredible amount hubris.

I work hard to get more sleep! All that aside, not having to sleep making and not working more would be a productivity gain to the end user. More free time to consume per hour worked. Still, I'd like to use that extra time to... Sleep.

#3: The "chess cheater" in the picture is beautiful, which is actually pretty interesting in light of a paper by Catherine Eckel called "Detecting Trustworthiness: Does Beauty Confound Intuition?" From the abstract:

"Subjects in the experiment interact with a counterpart in a lab at another location, and each observe the others’ photograph while making their decisions. The photographs are rated by a separate set of subjects drawn from the relevant population. We find that attractive people trust less than unattractive people. However, subjects expect greater trust from attractive people, and their expectations are disappointed, leading to lower amounts returned to attractive first movers. Thus we provide some evidence of a beauty penalty in this game that operates through the distorting effect of beauty on the expectations of the players."

On another note, Eckel recently won the Carolyn Shaw Bell Award for her contributions to the status of women in economics. I wrote more about her other research on my blog at

Wow, eres atractiva! And trust me, these women can beat a chess hack like me, or even TC!

The picture shows a still of Faye Dunaway from the 1968 movie---a different kind of "cheating" is implied by the title, maybe. BTW, my senior blog partner is from your alma-mater.

To answer "John" further down, we can begin not with Ray Lopez but Ruy Lopez, who noted tricks to put off the opponent back in 1561. Well that's gamesmanship not cheating; the issue now is that computers are so much stronger than humans that even on smartphones they are a menace: a strong player was caught red-handed with one in June 2011, and news today has the top-rated Houdini 3 program coming out for Android.

Regan's work on Intrinsic Chess Ratings has also helped debunk the idea that there has been inflation in ELO ratings, which was popular in some circles.

Re #1: As the author says "Caveat: I've never used Modafinil." and it's pretty apparent. Modafinil doesn't reduce the need to sleep, it makes a person unaware they're sleep-deprived.

This might be a good thing in short term situation when you need alertness and basic presence for longer than average (or in weird hours), but in the long term you're just massively sleep deprived and your performance will be horrible on any mentally or physically demanding tasks.

Evidence, please? I have not read that.

Nailed it, thank you.
Author could have gone with "Caveat: I've never used Modafinil, nor discussed it with anyone having significant experience using it, nor thought deeply about this subject before making sweeping conclusions."
In my experience, many highly productive people are already familiar with Modafinil. If you already work 80 hours/week, and sleep 5-6 hours/night during weekdays, this medication does not enable you to reduce your median slumber by 2-3 hours/night without consequences. However, if you would like to pull an all-nighter once a week, or if you need to participate in meetings after little sleep and want to avoid looking like a groggy buffoon, Modafinil is very helpful. From the experience of others, I would caution that daily use appears to reduce the perceived benefits.

Lost all respect for economists who are eager to dabble in other
fields without an iota of understanding of the physiology
and homeostatic functions of sleep. Please
stick to ruining the country and not our health.

Beyond belief that you guys have an opinion
on everything, even things you have no clue about.

Yes, but they are basically saying "assume a miracle pill with no side-effects" as a mental exercise. It's not completely unreasonable, although the current pill is probably not it. We, after all, don't spend all day chasing antelope anymore and the government has given us curley-q fluorescent lights. So, maybe some of the physical need for sleep has lessened and the instincts haven't caught up.

I don't think sleep is based on physical needs.

To a first approximation, it's what mammals DO. It's their THING. Damn, you should see my dog.

Possibly, the strategy reflects energy conservation and safety issues.

Also, for humans anyway, I think there is a fair amount of mental filing and sorting associated with sleep. But can this take more than a couple hours a day?

I dunno- I think there might be some low-hanging fruit there, though I halso have this "don't fool with Mother Nature, circadian rhythm, blah blah blah" side too.

Altering sleep patterns gets heavily into safety, machinery operation and, most of all, driving. The most dangerous part of driving under the influence isn't especially the alcohol in the driver's system but the fact that he got up early, worked all day, spent hours in the saloon and then started to fall asleep on the way home. Maybe if there are drugs that can effectively keep you awake with a BAL of .10 highway safety might improve. Or drinkers would just have a couple more shots before hitting the highway.

I don't understand what is meant by "cheating" in chess. Aren't all of the moves recorded? Wouldn't it be trivial to check whether they all were all legal? I think I am missing the point

I think they are suggesting that the "cheater" must have used some prohibited device to get help, hence the references to reflective glasses and contact lenses. However, the author is talking about catching "cheaters" not by directly detecting these alleged devices. If I am understanding him correctly, he is suggesting that they can infer that someone cheated if the player made moves that were "too good" for a player of that skill level, as measured by some computer algorithm???

In sports there is a cliche when a severe underdog upsets an opponent that is much better "on paper". We say, "Well, that's why we bother playing the actual game on the field." This notion of "cheating" turns that on its head. If one actually accepts this notion of "cheating", then when an underdog upsets a much better opponent and is accused of cheating based on making too many "too good" moves, we can say, "Well, that's why we determine how good he is on paper."

Read the linked article and accompanying article regarding this particular cheating episode. It's not a matter of beating one good opponent. What would you think if some terrible old player suddenly crushed every other player at a major tournament? If you know anything about chess, you know that is impossible without cheating.

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